Process

Hi Folks,

This is kind of like schedule or routine, but more focused. When I say process here, I’m talking about the process of writing a particular work.

Before I get into that, I just want to mention that I now have books available in nine different bundles, ranging from SF to action-adventure to romance to westerns. To check out these incredible values (newest at the top) see http://harveystanbrough.com/bundles. Thanks for looking!

This topic of Process came up because (as I write this) I’m in or nearing the end game of my current novel. Now, I’m just writing off into the dark so I don’t know yet what the end will be. It might occur in the next few thousand words or it might take another ten or even fifteen thousand, but I know it’s not far off.

And near the end, I’ll run a little low on petrol. And patience. If you lived here and were within hearing, during the last few days of me writing a novel you’d hear me turn into a three year old. “Aaauuuggghhh! I don’t WANNA finish this stupid book! This is so HARD! I gotta take a day off!”

In the alternative, it will be something like, “No possible WAY am I gonna make my goal today.” (That was yesterday. I was saying that all day at about half-hour intervals, and when I finally stopped, I had made my goal plus some.)

Or it will be something like, “Well, I only was able to dribble out a thousand words today, but I’ll take it. I guess.”

I swear, it’s just like listening to a grouchy three year old. And it’s worse in my head, because I’m the one who could turn it off.

But I can’t. I can only let it work through itself.

What keeps me sane, relatively speaking of course, is that I recognize all the whining as part of the process I’ll go through in finishing this novel. It’s the same process I went through in finishing the first twenty-six novels and four novellas. And I know, right now, it’s the same process I’ll go through in writing and finishing the next novel.

But knowing it isn’t the same as experiencing it. Like physical pain, it isn’t something we can recall into existence. If I could, I probably wouldn’t be a writer.

Because I can’t stand it. Seriously. It’s the sort of nasal, wimpy, whiny stuff that makes me wanna slap both hands over my ears and run in a circle yelling “Lalalalalalala!” so I can’t hear it.

It’s the shrill sort of thing that makes me wanna grab a rifle and hit a tower and shoot the unruly hell out of anyone who wrinkles up their nose and says, “Who thinks like that?”

Seriously. ‘Cause I do, okay? I think like that.

And I whine when I’m nearing the end-game of writing a novel. And I hate it. Ugh.

So one day if this blog just stops coming, you should feel relatively confident that I’ve finally snapped.

In that event, you may be sure I am sitting naked on a beach in Ecuador counting grains of sand. I’ll probably be angry because I lost count at nine hundred and sixty-eight trillion, seven hundred and fifty-three billion, four hundred and twelve million, seven thousand twenty-six because THAT ONE grain of sand just couldn’t keep its stupid hands to itself. No. It just HAD to jump in line ahead of the next grain of sand, which caused me to count it twice. I think. Maybe.

Which of course means I have to start all over again.

Okay, so what’s your process?

Happy writing,

Harvey

Note: This blog is funded only by your gracious contributions. For a one-time donation, click the Donate button at the top of the sidebar. To consider becoming a patron and reap extra rewards, click Become a Patron. If you can’t make a monetary donation, please consider sharing this post with your friends. Thanks!

The Power of Schedule

Hi Folks,

I’ve been at this almost-daily writing since mid-October of 2014. Or another way to look at it, I’ve ONLY been at this since mid-October of 2014. Either way, I’ve only recently realized the importance of Schedule.

I’ve read other blogs on this topic and they made perfect sense. Like The Importance of Routines by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.

I didn’t skip over them. I read them, absorbed what was useful to me, and moved on.

But again, only recently has it all come together for me. I’m gonna tell you how.

Now first, let me disarm the detractors.

The first thing most younger (meaning less-experienced) writers toss out at me is my own odd schedule. When I mention practically anything about writing to them, they say some version of “Oh, but you start at 3 in the morning. I could never do that.”

My first response is a shrug and “Okay.” And the second is “So?”

The point is, we all have 24 hours in a day. It’s up to each of us to determine how we use that 24 hours. I use about 6 hours of it sleeping. Whether that 6 hours comes out of the middle of the night or the middle of the day, it’s still only 6 hours and it still leaves 18 hours during which I can do all the other things I want to do.

Awhile back I realized when I was a child there were only three channels on TV, yet there was ALWAYS something good on to watch. Pretty much every day in every time slot we had to decide which show to watch and which to pass up, and it was seldom an easy decision.

Today we have hundreds of channels, yet there are only a smattering of programs that are well-written or well-acted enough to even attract my attention. Only one show keeps me riveted day after day, and it’s a re-run of the old NYPD Blue series. Excellent acting, excellent writing, great camera work. It’s a free course on writing in the crime or detective or police procedural genre for the short story, novel and screen.

The beginning of my schedule is about an hour after I wake up and climb outta the rack. The first hour is coffee, emails, other people’s blog posts and so on.

So in my schedule, I have roughly 12 to 14 hours available to me to write, from 3 or 4 in the morning until 4 in the afternoon. Now, my “job” is to carve three to four hours out of that time to actually commit words to the page. That’s 3,000 to 4,000 words or thereabouts.

And I find (here’s the power part) if I can get the first 2,000 words or so committed to the page before I go walking (so that’s two to three normal to short writing sessions), I’ll make my daily goal of 3,000 words for that day. If I don’t, there’s almost no chance.

I’m not sure why. I still have plenty of time. There’s just something about coming back from my walk and knowing I have only another 500 to 1000 words to go that invigorates me. And then, as often as not, I shoot right past the goal.

But again, it has nothing to do with the “odd” hours I keep. I still sleep only 6 hours per day and have available the other 18 hours. I just adjusted my sleep/wake time to suit what I consider to be important for me.

I go to bed a little earlier so I miss a lot of stuff on TV that, if I were awake, I’d stare at like a zombie. And then I wake earlier when the world is quieter and more conducive (for me) to writing.

I don’t recommend it for anyone else. We have different lives, you and I, and we prioritize differently. That’s all right.

But what I DO recommend is that—if you want to write (or write more)—you set a goal and then adjust your schedule around that goal to better enhance the chance that you will attain it.

Happy writing,

Harvey

Note: This blog is funded only by your gracious contributions. For a one-time donation, click the Donate button at the top of the sidebar. To consider becoming a patron and reap extra rewards, click Become a Patron. If you can’t make a monetary donation, please consider sharing this post with your friends. Thanks!

Streams of Income

Hey Folks,

If you’re a writer, and if you’re intelligent enough to have embraced indie publishing, you want as many streams of income as possible off everything you write.

If you aren’t a writer, you can stop reading now.

If you are a writer, but you’re still pursuing an agent and/or a traditional publisher so THEY can make all the money off various streams of income, please stop reading now.

Anyone else, keep reading. For the rest of you, for at least a limited time, I’m offering to answer any questions any of you have regarding getting revenue from your stories, short or long.

The only prerequisites are that you’ve read this topic in its entirety, and that you have downloaded and read the free resources I offer over at http://HarveyStanbrough.com/downloads/.

Those include

The Essentials of Digital Publishing

Quick Guide to Self-Publishing & FAQs

Heinlein’s Business Habits For Writers (Heinlein’s Rules), Annotated

I also recommend you read and study my posts on MS Word for Writers. You can find those at http://harveystanbrough.com/microsoft-word-for-writers/ and they’re all free. Read them especiallly if you’re still using the Tab bar or the spacebar to indent paragraphs.

Basically, getting multiple streams of income first relies on making your work available in as many different venues as possible.

If you “publish” exclusively with Amazon or anyone else, you can’t do that. In fact, if you publish exclusively with Amazon, you aren’t even allowed, legally, to post your short story or novel on your own website.

So that’s the first lesson. Go wide.

I recommend distributing everything you write to Amazon and to Draft2Digital.

Smashwords also is a good distributor that will get you into a lot more minor venues, but I’ve never made a sale (since 2011) in any of those venues. So personally I don’t allot any of my time to uploading my work to Smashwords.

Once you’ve settled on distributors, you can shift into the second level of building multiple streams of income.

Collect your short stories. Collect your novels. Period.

When I have written ten short stories, I automatically have 10 new streams of income.

If I make those stories available (through D2D and Amazon) in nine venues, that means I’ve just created 90 individual new streams of income.

If I also collect those stories in two 5-story collections and one 10-story collection, I’ve just created three more streams of income. Times the same nine venues.

So now, having written 10 short stories, I can received income from 117 different streams of revenue.

Later, there’s no law that says you can’t combine two, three or four 10-story collections into one omnibus collection either. More streams of income.

Of course, you can also group your novels. You can sell the first five books in a series in one book. You can sell the last five books in a series in another book. And you can sell all ten books in a single book.

Again, from having written 10 novels, you’re now bringing in revenue from 117 different streams.

Every time you find a new way to present your work, you create a new stream of income that is multiplied by the number of venues in which you offer that work for sale.

That’s also why I use and recommend BundleRabbit. When your work catches the attention of a curator there and he or she bundles it, you’ve just created yet one more stream of income.

Try it. The math isn’t as difficult as it seems.

And those trickling little streams of income all flow into the same river that feeds your bank account. It really is that easy.

Any questions or comments, please add them below or email me directly at harveystanbrough@gmail.com.

‘Til next time, happy writing!
Harvey

Setting Writing Goals for 2018

Hey Folks,

This is a special bonus post to all my Pro Writer subscribers out there. Enjoy!

First, let me recommend you read the comments on Dean Wesley Smith’s post from a few days ago. There are some ideas for goal-setting and challenges there that might resonate with you. For your convenience, here’s the link: https://www.deanwesleysmith.com/getting-ready-for-2018.

What follows is the thought process and rationale that helped me set my own goals and challenges for the upcoming year. I’m including it here in case it might help some of you.

I’ve been wrestling with my commitment to writing new fiction.

My word choice here is intentional. A “commitment” is different, to me, than a “resolution.”
Resolutions generally rattle around in my head for awhile, drop an ulcer into my gut, and then flail off into the eternal past like yesterday’s good news.

I’d rather make a commitment, something that isn’t just a fashion-of-the-day fad. Something that requires (from me) a stubborn determination.

Okay, so as I wrestled with this over the past few months and more intensely over the past few days, Critical Mind said, “Hey, go slow, dude. You’ve been off for awhile.” So I thought about setting a goal to write one new short story per week, nothing more.

Seriously? That would probably be wonderful for some folks. After all, that’s 3 – 6 dedicated hours per week of putting new words on the page. As such, it’s certainly nothing to snort at.

But I don’t have children to raise or a day job that consumes my existence. So what in the world would I do with the rest of my time?

I know me. I’d waste it.

Besides, I’m one of those guys who understands if I’ve done something once I can do it again, barring physical limitations. For example, I’ll never run 3 miles in under 18 minutes again, but I did 46 years ago. (grin)

Okay, so it’s time to get real, and nothing is more real than math.

  • Back in 2015, I wrote 686,146 words of fiction, an average of 1880 words per day. (I wrote 719,084 words overall).
  • In 2016, I wrote 702,838 words of fiction, an average of 1926 words per day. (I wrote 976,298 words overall).
  • But this year I wrote only 453,762 words of new fiction. That’s an average of only 1243 words per day. Overall this year I will have written around 640,000 words, less than my fiction-only output in either of the preceding years.

So how can I use this information? Well, I’m setting new writing goals for 2018. Duh. And I like (very much) to better my personal best.

So my subconscious said, “Y’know, we’ve easily hit 3000 and even 4000 words on most days when you let us play.” (We hit more than that on other days, but not so easily.) “So we think our new DAILY goal should be 2500 words.”

“Okay,” said I.

Sensing a trick, my subconscious said, “To be clear, we are not allowed to stop until we’ve written at least 2500 new words of fiction.”

Well, that’s only two to three hours per day. Every day.

Okay, that still sounded reasonable, but with one modification.

I said, “Deal, but I’ll take a day off without guilt when life intervenes or when I just want to.”

My subconscious grumbled a bit, then backed off, its little arms crossed over its chest. “Whatever,” it said.

But that’s all right. My modification was necessary, so that’s that. For example, I have some camping to do (my funny friend says “cramping”) and some family visits coming up. Things like that.

Plus (as I told my subconscious), what matters with this kind of goal is the average. After all, the target word count is a minimum. Any words over 2500 go into the bank and count toward the average.

Folks, I’m establishing goals to drive me to the computer, not to drive me to drink. It’s all about production, not pressure.

If I can manage a little more on average (2740 words per day), I will have hit that elusive goal of 1,000,000 words of fiction in 2018. Wouldn’t that be nice?

And Dean, my unintentional mentor, recommends what he calls a “fall-back goal.” I get that.

So even if I fall short, if I write at least 2055 words per day on average, I will have written 750,000 words of fiction. And that’s not too shabby.

At that point, my subconscious was convinced and fully on board. And my conscious mind shut up and went to sit in her assigned corner. (Yes, she’s female. Do I need to explain?)

Okay, so for calendar year 2018

  • my daily goal is 2500 words of new fiction per day;
  • my stretch goal is 1,000,000 words of new fiction; and
  • my fall-back goal is 750,000 words of new fiction.

And regarding my conscious mind’s nagging admonition to go slow?

Well, note that these are all strictly word-production goals.

Some of those words will go into short stories, some into novelettes and novellas, and some into novels.

But I’m not setting specific goals in that regard. I don’t need them.

I already know I can write a short story in a day or two, a novelette or novella in a few to several days, and a novel in two to four weeks. And that feels plenty fast enough to me.

The challenge will be to write at least 2500 words of new fiction per day, period, and to take a day off without fretting over it when I need to.

This is incredibly freeing. What comes will come. The eventual form the story takes doesn’t matter. All that matters is putting new words on the page.

And, you know, the average. (grin)

‘Til next time, happy writing!

Harvey

PS: If you want some great long or short fiction, poetry, or nonfiction books on writing, everything I own is still half-price over at https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/HEStanbrough, but only through tomorrow.

Patience Is a Virtue

Hey Folks,

Note: I hope everyone had an enjoyable Christmas and will have a great New Year. One of my distributors, Smashwords, is offering a year-end sale in which I’m participating.

For only 8 days, December 25 through January 1, all of my books at Smashwords are on sale for 50% off. To take advantage of this year-end sale, visit https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/HEStanbrough, make your selections, and enter promotion code SEY50. Thanks, and enjoy!

Awhile back I mentioned it’s good to practice something new, some new technique you’ve learned, in each new story you write.

Over the past several novels, I’ve become very good at grounding the reader. I accomplish that primarily by providing intimate details regarding the setting and the people in it.

But as you already know if you follow my Daily Journal, I do a lot of cycling.

Sometimes I cycle back to insert something the characters spring on me later in the story.

For example, say in Chapter 26 Aunt Marge suddenly pulls a .32 caliber revolver out of her house dress and shoots an intruder.

If that happens, I cycle back to when she first put on the house dress, say back in Chapter 18, and allow her to take the revolver from her night stand and slip it into the pocket of her house dress.

This accomplishes two things:

One, it negates the “miracle” of the revolver suddenly appearing just when it’s needed.

Two, it makes the reader feel the writer is a genius. After all, how did the writer know, way back in Chapter 18, that our dear Aunt Marge would need that revolver in Chapter 26?

Cycling will remain an invaluable aid for precisely those two reasons.

However, most of the time when I cycled back in my last several novels, I did so because I got in too big a hurry. I rushed the characters through the scenes, especially action scenes, and thereby missed much that they were trying to add.

Like how the setting looked, smelled, tasted, felt and sounded. And the POV character’s opinion of all that.

So most of the time, I was cycling back to slow myself down and let the characters add what was necessary to both ground the reader in the scene and to give the story depth.

So in this novel, the “new” technique I’m practicing is adding that depth and grounding the reader as I go.

I’ll still cycle back at the beginning of every session. But I expect I’ll be adding fewer words to older scenes and writing a lot more words in new scenes.

In other words, I’m taking my time. I’m still hitting around a thousand words an hour, but they’re more substantive words. Words that aren’t rushed and don’t skimp on necessary details.

In still other words, I’m practicing patience as I write. I understand it’s a virtue. I just wish it would hurry up and get here. (grin)

‘Til next time,

Harvey

PS: Cycling also helps me avoid rewriting and enables me to adhere to Heinlein’s Rules. If you haven’t seen them, you can get a free copy here.

Scene and Chapter Breaks and Hooks

Hey Folks,

I love this topic, and it’s timely because it’s what I’ve been practicing in my last few WsIP. (grin)

As I write this, I have a copyediting job that I put on the back burner because I was so close to finishing the novel. I’ll begin that copyedit today.

To see what I mean by “copyedit,” please visit http://harveystanbrough.com/copyediting/.

The writer also requested I check to see whether the scene and chapter breaks “make sense.” I’ll check, but I have no doubt they will. Then again, that led me to this topic for the day.

First, let me define “break” so we’re all on the same page.

In my books, chapter breaks consist either of white space followed by a new chapter head, or a series of five spaced asterisks (in anything I send to Smashwords) followed by white space.

As for scene breaks, in my books, those consist of a series of three spaced asterisks followed by white space. Just my way of doing it.

Some writers use only white space, and that’s fine. But all writers that I’ve encountered thus far use something to clearly mark breaks.

Because the writer asked, I’ll check to be sure those breaks make sense. But I’ll go a step further and check to see whether they hook together from scene to scene and chapter to chapter.

That’s actually a three-step process.

1. I’ll check to see whether there’s a tension-building cliffhanger (physical or emotional) in the few paragraphs before the break.

Yes? Check.

No? I’ll add a comment out to the side, with or without a specific recommendation.

2. I’ll check to see whether there’s a good hook immediately after the break. A good opening sentence or paragraph.

For examples of great opening hooks, see my free book (a $6 value) Writing Great Beginnings on the Free Stuff page of my website at http://harveystanbrough.com/downloads/.

3. As long as I’m looking for a hook, I’ll also check to see whether the writer grounds (or re-grounds) the reader in the opening of the new scene or chapter.

For that, I’ll check the first few paragraphs of the new scene or chapter. That’s where you ground the reader, even amidst ongoing action.

So grounding. Yes? Check.

No? Again, I’ll add a comment out to the side, with or without a specific recommendation.

Okay, so while I’m on the topic, how do you ground or re-ground the reader in a new scene or chapter?

The only way is to allow the reader to sense (see, hear, smell, taste, touch) the setting through the POV character’s senses.

And remember to include the character’s opinions of the setting when appropriate. (When the opinion matters to the scene or illustrates the character of the character.)

One good example that I often use is a room in which the aroma of pipe tobacco lingers. Pretty much any character will notice it (smell).

But for one character it’s an aroma, and for another it’s a stench. For another the air is stuffy. For another it’s wonderful.

For another (or any of the above) perhaps it invokes a memory of the character’s father’s study.

For another (or any of the above) maybe it invokes the taste of cinnamon on toast because the scent of pipe tobacco is tied to that flavor for the character.

You get the idea. A good rule of thumb is to write NOTHING that doesn’t come through the POV character’s senses and opinion. And yes, that will flavor the character’s dialogue as well.

Most importantly, it will pull the reader into the setting and into the POV character’s head.

‘Til next time, happy writing!

Harvey

Just Tell A Story

Hey Folks,

So many of us have forgotten that our primary purpose is to entertain, first ourselves and then other readers. Entertainent really is the sole purpose of writing fiction.

We get wrapped around words. Yet in and of themselves, they just don’t matter. Words really are only tools, like nails to a carpenter. (If the carpenter drops a nail, does he stop the project? Uh, no.)

We get wrapped around sentence structure, or about whether a group of words constitutes a complete sentence. (Never mind that most of the world, in either narration or dialogue, doesn’t speak in complete sentences.)

We get wrapped around characterization and scene and setting. We get wrapped around “plot” and “theme” and all manner of other things.

Those things DO matter, but the story will provide all of them if we just trust it.

Should we learn those things? Absolutely.

But once we learn about words, sentence structure, characterization, plot and all the rest, it becomes part of our subconscious.

Learning is conscious-mind stuff. It’s what we do in classrooms, physical or virtual. Learning is why I visit Dean Wesley Smith’s site every day. Learning is why I read fiction by other writers, and if it blows me away, I read it again and study it.

And learning is why I practice, practice, practice. And by practice, I mean I write.

Writing is an endeavor of the subconscious. It isn’t learning. It’s practicing what we’ve learned. It’s playtime. Fun time.

And as we write (as we practice), what we’ve learned about words, sentences, plot etc. dribbles forth without effort or thought through our fingers onto the page or screen.

Consider, do you stop and think about whether to put a period at the end of a sentence? No. If you’re writing by hand, do you stop and think about whether to dot an i or cross a t? Of course not.

Because you learned all of that long ago. It’s natural to you, and you trust it.

At your current level of skill, the words, plot, characterization etc. are natural to you as well. You just have to learn to trust it.

I don’t hover over one story in an attempt to make it “perfect.” Like artists in all other art forms, I practice. I write a story, publish it, and move on to the next one.

Some will say when I cycle back over the last 500 to 1000 words and allow myself to touch it, that’s hovering. It isn’t. Cycling is all done with the subconscious mind. The conscious, “thinking” mind has no place in the practice of writing.

When we sit down to write, maybe we decide we’ll practice a particular technique in the current story. Maybe we’ll decide to practice setting.

But once we start writing, we should no longer be thinking (conscious mind stuff) about any of that.

When we sit down to write, we should Just Tell A Story.

If we trust ourselves to just tell a story, everything else comes along of its own accord.

Now, twenty-seven novels and over 180 short stories later, I’m finally fully understanding the purpose: Entertainment. I’m writing solely to entertain, first myself and then others. In other words, my only task is to Just Tell a Story.

And that understanding is incredibly freeing. That’s what it’s all about.

Back in the day, writers “had no training that stories had to be perfect. [The stories] had to be nothing more than good stories readers would enjoy.” (from DWS’ post)

There you go.

Just. Tell. A. Story.

Tell it as if you’re chatting with a friend over a cup of coffee. Or as if you’re leaning to one side on a bar stool, an old-fashioned glass of Who Hit John in your grasp. Just tell a story.

If you don’t already fully realize this, when you do “get” it you’ll be amazed at how much fun writing will be.

‘Til next time, keep writing!

Harvey

On Pacing and Paragraphing

Hey Folks,

A few days ago as I write this, I was reading one of my magic realism stories to my grandson. “The Storyteller” by Gervasio Arrancado.

I wrote the thing several years ago, and I knew nothing about pacing. Or paragraphing, for that matter.

As I read it aloud to him, I got bored. Massively bored. I know it’s a good story, yet I found myself wondering what reader could possibly enjoy wading through this thing.

My pacing sucked. My paragraphing sucked worse. The two go hand in hand.

I thought I knew paragraphing. I did know what I’d learned in every English, English Comp and English Lit class I’d ever taken.

But no, I didn’t know paragraphing. And I had no clue about pacing.

The bare bones of pacing is this:

Especially when action is occurring, hit the Return (Enter) key more often.

Shorter paragraphs (smaller blocks of text) are easier and quicker to read and understand. So are shorter sentences and sentence fragments.

And all of those move the action along.

Shorter sentences and sentence fragments also convey a sense of drama and emphasis. If they aren’t overused, that’s a powerful tool.

Especially if they’re used in their own paragraph.

In an action scene, those shorter paragraphs force the reader’s eyes to catapult across the white space from one paragraph to the next in an attempt to keep up.

So even as the action is racing, the reader is racing right along with it.

But maybe the character moves into a new setting, one where he’s going to be for awhile and where action is not immediate.

For example, maybe he’s lying in wait for a victim or a perpetrator. Maybe he’s sitting with a colleague in a coffee shop discussing an interesting turn of events. Maybe he’s visiting family in Hoboken (or wherever).

That goes to pacing too.

In those circumstances, while he’s “resting” from the action, you can slow the reader with more detailed description and longer paragraphs.

So what about description? How much description of the setting is necessary?

Ask your character. He’s the one who’s actually in the story.

What does the character notice if he’s panicked and busting through a door to escape a fire?

What does he see, hear, smell, taste, touch when he’s immediately involved in a fist fight or a shootout as he enters a room (saloon, library, grocery store, airport, etc.)?

Maybe it’s all a blur. Maybe one aspect or two of the setting stands out for him.

Now, what does he notice (again, see, hear, smell, taste, touch) when he is admitted to the home of a victim’s relatives to inform them he’s found the body of their son?

What does he notice in the hospital waiting room as he awaits word about his colleague?

What does he notice when he joins the rest of his extended family for Thanksgiving dinner?

I ask “what does the character notice” because if you want to ground the reader in the scene (and you do) ALL description of setting MUST come through the character’s senses of the setting as expressed in the character’s opinions of that setting.

Think about it. He probably won’t notice a lot about the setting (but maybe some) as he’s busting through a door to escape a fire or suddenly being involved in a firefight.

He might notice a great deal more about a setting in which he’s relaxed or in which he’s spending some time as he awaits the next action scene.

When we’re bored or otherwise unoccupied, we tend to pay more attention to sights, sounds, smells, etc.

So do characters. Describe the setting accordingly.

Pace the scene accordingly.

‘Til next time, happy writing.
Harvey

“Building” Characters?

Hey Folks,

Some writers (and probably all of them/us at first) believe they have to “build” or “create” characters. Some folks even go so far as to create a “character sketch” to one degree or another.

The character sketch might be so detailed as to include the character’s educational background, childhood experiences, and anything else. It’s the story of the character.

Most often, writers who do this begin with a stick figure and then flesh it out. Those writers “assign” various physical, mental and emotional traits and “know” the character thoroughly before they begin writing the story.

Most often, these are the same writers who plot every step of a novel before they ever begin writing.

Of course, there are “hybrid” writers who create and use character sketches but also write without an outline when the time comes.

If either of these is how you write, that’s perfectly fine. Seriously, whatever works for you.

The way I see it, regardless of all the various ways there are to create a story, all writers fall into one of two overall categories:

The Almighty Writer On High — This writer is the god of his fictional world. He dictates (again, to one degree or another) who the characters Are (education, life experiences, etc.) and what the characters say and do. In short, this writer is in complete control of his characters.

This writer also most often dictates plot points, twists and turns, and most often knows what will happen “next” in the story, often all the way to the end. But this topic is about characters.

The Recorder — This writer has ceded control of the story to the characters.

So yes, he is also in charge at first. After all, how can you “cede” control if it isn’t yours to cede?

But this writer’s control ends where the characters’ control begins. Basically, it ends when the writer puts his fingers on the keyboard.

This writer realizes this is not “his” story but the characters’ story. So he chooses to let the characters tell it.

As a result, the characters go where they want, say and do what they want, and pretty much dare the recorder (the writer) to keep up.

After all, he isn’t part of the characters’ world or their story. He simply happened upon some interesting people, thought their story would be interesting, and asked permission to come along for awhile so he could record it.

Fortunately, the characters thought that would be fine.

What ensues from that moment forward is the characters’ story without so much as a single heavy fingerprint of the human “writer” on it.

Maybe the best part of this approach is that the writer learns about the characters as they develop, just as he does with “real” people he meets. The difference is, if he doesn’t like these characters, he can cause them to be killed off without having to endure all the bother of formal charges, a trial, and possible prison time.

Again, whether you choose to be the Almighty Writer on High or The Recorder is strictly up to you. Either way is fine with me. Whatever works.

But just in case you’ve been the former and are interested in trying on the latter, here’s one way (my way) to get there.

Back when I first decided to become the interested but non-controlling Recorder, I envisioned myself on a battlefield of sorts, one with trenches.

The trenches are the story, and that’s where the characters are: down in the story.

When I first started writing, I set myself up in a tower, far distant from the battlefield, and observed the action through a powerful telescope.

I watched what happened, could see what was coming, and anticipated what would happen if this character moved here and that character moved there, and they did and said this or that or the other.

And I directed them.

Now get this — because I’m only human, I was unable to think any thoughts that were different than the thoughts any reader might think if he were standing in the tower with me. So the stories “I” told were not only distant, but boring and predictable.

Later, I realized if I got closer to the battlefield I could see the action in greater detail. But I was still directing the characters and events. The stories improved — they weren’t as distant and  were more detailed — but yeah, they were still ridiculously predictable.

Finally, a couple years ago, for some reason I thought what great fun it might be to get closer still.

I sat down on the edge of a trench and dangled my legs over. Only now I was too close.

I could no longer see an overview. Oh oh.

I could no longer tell what might happen next. And next. And next.

I began to hyperventilate.

The only way to enjoy the tight proximity to the characters AND find out what happened next and next and next was to be in the story itself.

So when a character raced by I yelled, “Hey!”

He stopped and looked back. His brow wrinkled. “Say, you’re not from around here, are you?”

I shook my head. “Nope. But you guys are really interesting to me. I wanna come along.”

He frowned. “But you’re not part of our group.”

“Yeah, I know. But I wanna be.”

He looked at me for a moment. “Hey, aren’t you that guy used to sit up in the tower over there and tell us what to do?”

“Uh, yeah. But see, I—”

He turned away. “Sorry. You can’t. We don’t care for control freaks.”

“But I don’t wanna control anything anymore! It’s YOUR story. I just wanna be in the story with you!”

He turned around again, eyed me. Finally he said, “Well, you can’t be in the story. It’s out story, got it? You’re living your own story out there.

“Tell you what, though, you can come along if you want. You can be our Recorder. Just keep up. Take notes. Write down what happens, what we say and do. That’s as close as we can let you get.

“You’ll be in the thick of it, only you can’t participate. A’right?”

“Deal!” I said. Then I released my grip on all things Writerly and dropped off into the story.

From then on, I’ve only been out of the trenches between stories.

Now I learn who my characters are as they reveal themselves through their actions and words (just like “real” people do) while running through the story. I describe events as they happen. Sometimes I see things coming, but most of the time I’m as surprised as the characters are.

And that tells me the readers will be surprised too.

Oh, and the plot? For that I harken back to Mr. Bradbury: “Plot is only the footprints the characters leave behind as they run through the story.”

‘Til next time, happy writing.
Harvey

My Updated Fiction Length and Price List for 2017/2018

Hi Folks,

First, a few explanatory notes —

1. In everything below, I’m talking about indie publishers, like you and me. All signs indicate the traditional publishing model (the agency model) is dead or dying across the board.

I’m also talking here about ebooks. If you want to deal with print, see my excerpt from Dean’s post at http://hestanbrough.com/the-journal-friday-106/. And remember that DWS’ pricing guidelines are for trade paperback books, not mass-market paperback books.

2. As DWS mentioned a few days ago (as I write this), in short fiction, Length, not Genre, matters in pricing.

In long fiction, however, Genre, not Length, rules in matters of pricing. This is a major change for me, and one I had a little difficulty getting my head around.

To mitigate that “lost at sea” feeling, it helped me to remember that most well-selling genres have general length guidelines (e.g., Westerns are most often around 30,000-50,000 words).

It also helps to remember that dedicated readers of a particular genre have come to expect certain price points (e.g., most Romance readers are used to paying around $3.99 regardless of the length of the novel).

3. DWS also mentioned, in response to a comment, that the terms “novelette” (long short story) and “novella” (between a novelette and a short novel) have no meaning for readers beyond letting them know the work is something shorter than a novel. I agree. However, to add two more price levels that pertain to Length in short fiction, I use the designations for myself as a publisher.

All of that comes into play in what follows:

For short fiction, Length, not Genre, matters:

To 2999 (Short-short Story)………………………………1.49
3000 to 6999 (Short Story)………………………………..1.99
7000 to 14999 (Novelette or Long Short Story)…2.99
15000 to 24999 (Novella)………………………………….3.49

For long fiction, Genre, not Length, matters:

Romance……………………..3.99
Western……………………….3.99 – 4.99
SF/F……………………………..3.99 – 4.99
Mystery, Suspense……….4.99 – 5.99
Thriller (big book)…………5.99 – 6.99

The pricing variations above (for me) afford room to take into account pricing for Length. For example, Cozy Mysteries generally are short novels or novels. Mysteries and those that crossover into Suspense generally are novels or long novels.

So the second tier (below) illustrates my own word-count divisions for length. I suspect this is a kind of security blanket for me:

25000 to 44999 (Short Novel)
45000 to 69999 (Novel)
over 70,000 (Long Novel)

Will these prices or lengths change?

Possibly.

And of course you should feel free to use this (or not) as only a guideline.

‘Til next time, happy writing!

Harvey

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